Tirtagangga literally means ‘water that flows from the Ganges’ and for a Hindi culture that is important. Tirtagangga itself is famous for the Royal pools, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful, if you have the time to stop and enjoy it.
What to do in Tirtagangga and the surrounding areas:
Tirtagangga was built in 1946 by the last raja of Karangasem, the district in which it sits. The raja not only commission the project, but got down and dirty with the workers, landing a hand to create his vision.
The raja was himself an architect as well as a poet and philsopher. Seen from the air Tirtagangga is a magnifient structure, seen against the backdrop of ricefields. The entire site was destroyed in 1963 when Gunung Agung erupted. Renovations followed and today the site is open to the public. Taking a swim in the freshwater Royal pool at the rear is a wonderful way to fight the humidity, on your trip through East Bali. There is a nominal fee to get into Tirtagangga and use the pool, but its worth it.
The water from Tirtagangga irrigates the ricefields nearby, which partly accounts for the beauty of the area. Entering Tirtagangga you will first park, then pass through an area of snack vendors, similar to many Balinese tourist places and temples. Inside the gardens, you will see the large pools, complete with stepping stones, statues, lovely carvings and an 11-tiered fountain. The best pool for swimming, together with a large banyan tree are situated at the back of the complex.
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Hiking around Tirtagangga:
The scenic landscape surrounding Tirtagangga offers ample opportunity for hiking, whether it be a 1 hour hike or a 1 day hike to the higland forests and villages. Good Karma restaurant and Genta Bali will sell you a map for local trekking options, ideal for exploring the ricefields in the Tirtagangga area. If you plan on longer walks and don’t have a month to find your way around, ask your guesthouse / hotel if they can provide a local guide.
Guided tour of Budakeling:
The hills that lay between Tirtagangga and Budakeling are perfect for a hike. The farming community that lives in this area includes artists and craftsmen, dancers, painters and sculptors. There are even lontar engravers, who scratch words into the dried lontar leaves, just as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. In the small villages around Budakeling, silversmiths and goldsmiths practice their trades.
The Brahmana Buddha are special high-caste families living in the Budakeling area, who are descended from the Balinese high-priests. They follow a Hindu cult called Budha Kasogatan, which is different to the Shiva rite most Balinese Hindu’s follow. The Brahmana Buddha date back to the 16th Century in Budakeling, a time when Danghyang Niratha, a Hindu priest from Java, invited another Javanese priest to participate in a ceremony. After sacrificing a virgin at the alter with a 4ft sabre, the young priest is said to of tamed a dragon and gained acceptaince from the village. The dragon metaphor is the vehicle to the afterlife for participants of the Budha Kasogatan cult. The village was renamed Budakeling derived from Buddha and Keling, which was the priest’s village in East Java.
If you hike from the eastern end of Budakeling following a small local road, you will climb up about 8km towards Gunung Agung. From there you will see wonderful views of the landscape down to the coast. At an alititude of 900m you may even see Lombok. At the top of the road is Tanah Aron, the site of a memorial statue to independence hero Ngurah Rai. You can also drive there by heading north from Tirtagangga 3km to Abang, taking the small road on the left to Pidpid, then 3km up the hill, with a 3km hike on foot. Great stuff and a very peaceful part of Bali.